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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of New York

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Penn Yan Man Convicted By A Federal Jury Of Gun And Witness Tampering Charges

CONTACT:      Barbara Burns
PHONE:         (716) 843-5817
FAX:            (716) 551-3051

ROCHESTER, N.Y.-Acting U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr. announced today that a federal jury convicted James E. Sandford, III, 28, of Penn Yan, NY, of possessing a stolen firearm, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and witness tampering. The charges carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. 

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brett Harvey and Frank Sherman, who handled the trial, stated that the defendant was initially arraigned on a criminal complaint in the Western District of New York on June 4, 2015. Subsequent to his arrest on the federal charges, Sandford attempted to intimidate and threaten a suspected witness against him by shouting to that individual: “I’m not going to be in jail long. I will see you on the outside you snitch,” with the intent to influence, delay or prevent the testimony of that suspected witness in the prosecution of defendant. 

Eventually, Sandford was charged in a superseding indictment which alleged that he distributed synthetic cannabinoids (designer drugs) between July 2014 and March 24, 2015, in the Penn Yan area. He was further charged with distributing such substances— and controlled substance analogues, which are designed to mimic the effects of controlled substances—both to individuals under the age of 21 and within 1000 feet of St. Michael’s School, a private elementary school in Penn Yan.  In addition, the superseding indictment alleged that on February 22, 2015, the defendant traded synthetic cannabinoids to a minor in exchange for a stolen Savage .410 double barrel shotgun. At the time, the defendant had two prior felony convictions preventing him from legally possessing a gun. Finally, the superseding indictment also charged him with witness tampering related to his statements to the suspected witness.

With the defendant contending that he did not know the substances he was distributing were illegal, the jury failed to reach a verdict on the drug charges against him.  The jury did, however, convict him of the two firearms charges and the witness tampering charge against him.

The guilty verdicts are the result of an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, under the direction of Special Agent-in-Charge James J. Hunt, New York Field Office; the Penn Yan Police Department, under the direction of Chief Mark Hulse; the Yates County Sheriff’s Department, under the direction of Ronald Spike; and the Yates County District Attorney’s Office, under the direction of Valerie Gardner.

Updated January 24, 2017